Monday, 6 December 2010

Robert Randolph & The Family Band We Walk This Road (4.5*)

We Walk This Road

Anyone familiar with Robert Randolph & The Family Band's initial release Live at the Wetlands who's failed to keep up with Randolph's subsequent studio recordings is probably going to be scratching his head, wondering what's going on.

Where Wetlands featured six tracks, all bar the eight-minute The March clocking over into double figures, We Walk This Road has (at least in iTunes Deluxe Version mode) twenty. Admittedly, three of them are Bonus tracks, and there are short Segues numbered from 1 to 6, all of which are extracts taken from public domain performances by the Blind Willie Johnson.

And in between those Segues there's no sign of the high intensity locked into a groove that made Wetlands such a memorable experience when Randolph first shot into prominence. Of course, had he chosen to do so he'd have been written off as a one trick pony who needed to find new avenues to explore.

In between, Unclassified and Colorblind headed off into the realms of hip-hop and more recent R&B, which you wouldn't find a surprising development, mixed in with the roots and gospel sacred steel influences that form the basis of Randolph's playing.

Those segues, however, takes Randolph's contemporary material and plonks it right into a continuum of black American music. Much of that stems from T Bone Burnett's presence as producer, which may also have something to do with guest appearances from Ben Harper (If I Had My Way), Leon Russell (Salvation) and drummer Jim Keltner (Shot of Love) on an eclectic mix of originals and covers of tracks written by John Lennon (I Don't Wanna Be a Soldier Mama), Bob Dylan (Shot of Love) and Prince (Walk Don't Walk).
While it's obviously gospel inspired, We Walk This Road is an album that traverses many genres and has the potential to appeal across generations. There's something for everybody in an album that you'd hope would be radio friendly.

Seriously, somebody who's this good instrumentally and can deliver an album of this quality deserves significant commercial success.